Group Decision Making, A.K.A. Politics

I’ve always said I hate politics. In hindsight, what I was really expressing was discomfort with divisiveness and conflict, lies and deceits and power games. Talking about politics feels like pinning Jello to the wall. People throw labels and jargon around. Terms are not defined and agreed upon. True intent is obfuscated. Actions and words don’t line up. Contempt and outrage rule.

The last eight years have been brutal in the political arena. I have an internal list of words that send me into immediate flight from conversations and interactions. If I can’t flee, for example if I’m at work, I put on a neutral face and withdraw, leaving a robot to carry on until the subject has changed to vacations, or family, or gardening, or even the same personal health stories I’ve heard from patients and patrons many times before. Anything but politics.

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

Yet everything feels politically charged right now. Every aspect of our culture, our basic needs, our planet, our economics, our bodies and our minds, winds up in an increasingly bleak morass of hatred, violence, fear, isolation, and manufactured confusion.

Interestingly, in my own fictional work, I’ve been stuck for some time in writing about a small egalitarian community whose harmony is disrupted by a member who actively seeks more power. The de facto leader, a woman, doesn’t know how to combat this aggression because I don’t know how to combat it!

Last winter my partner talked with me about a video series he’d found on YouTube called What is Politics? Before he was finished talking I was shaking my head. I wanted nothing to do with it. The words and terms are meaningless. It’s all just hate. It’s impossible to talk sensibly about and I don’t want to know more than I know; I don’t want to wander around in a toxic wasteland during my free time. Besides, I want to read, not listen to and watch YouTube.

(Yes, I am a bit of a snob that way.)

My partner sent me a link anyway. He’s persistent like that. I was duly annoyed. For some reason, I didn’t delete the link. One day when nothing in particular was going on I clicked through and watched it.

Irritatingly, I was impressed. The presenter (I think his name is Daniel) is smart, by which I mean he’s incredibly knowledgeable, well read, well spoken, and he’s a synthesist. He understands complexity. He has a sense of humor. He was not hateful and he did not speak in jargon. He pushed no ideology. He defined every single term he used. In fact, the very first thing he did was define politics as “anything related to decision making in groups.”

That simple, clear definition hooked me. I saw at once that politics are everywhere because politics are everywhere. My perspective widened from our current shameful global and national politics to include home, school, work, and neighborhoods. When two or more people are together anytime, anywhere, politics are in play. My resistance dissolved. I wanted to learn more. I sensed I was on the edge of figuring out how to solve my creative fictional dilemma.

My partner sent all the links to the video series and I settled down to go through the videos, one at a time. I use a split screen, taking notes on one side and watching the video on the other.

Politics is about power, the power to make decisions. It’s ridiculously simple. Without understanding it, I’ve been writing about politics for eight years on this blog as I explore choice and personal power. Power is something we all need to understand and master; it’s the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and living effectively.

This series has been the most valuable piece of learning I’ve engaged with since I learned emotional intelligence, more than ten years ago. I understand now why I’ve never been able to get a handle on politics, and why I’ve been so repulsed by the whole subject. Subconsciously, I’ve recognized the language games and manipulations, and I won’t deal in language games and manipulations. I don’t trust ideology, including my own. I don’t trust “news.” I don’t trust all the “worbs,” Daniel’s term for meaningless language no one defines clearly and correctly. Just about the only thing I do trust is that following the money behind every ideology, whether it be food, climate, aspects of gender and sexuality, geopolitics, religion, or elections, invariably uncovers corruption and reveals the puppet masters.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

And we are the puppets. Nicely divided along manufactured lines. Emotionally manipulated into defensiveness, distrust, hate, and fear so any kind of unity against the powerful elites who have a stranglehold on the vast majority of wealth and decision-making becomes increasingly improbable. The economic inequality most of us stagger under, the thing we all have in common, cannot be clearly seen because we’re captivated by a thousand tempting but ultimately meaningless ways to hate and fear one another.

That’s just the way the people at the top of the hierarchy want it. We’re good little “patriots,” incapable of unifying.

I don’t usually choose willful ignorance. It’s not a useful choice, but until now I hadn’t found a clear, concise, pragmatic way to become educated about political terminology and history. I’ve never before recommended a video series. I hope you will check out What is Politics.

Questions:

  • What are your current reactions to the subject of politics?
  • What aspect of politics do you find particularly troublesome or uncomfortable?
  • Do you feel more or less connected to family, friends, neighbors, and community than you did ten years ago?
  • Would you prefer to live in a political context of economic equality or economic hierarchy (our current state)?

Leave a comment below!

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:

The Value of a Heartbeat

I have felt, for a period of some years and more frequently since 2016, that the planet would be better off without human beings. I’ve said it, I’ve thought it, and this is the first time I’ve written it. I would be happy to be the first in line, gladly give up my life in the certain knowledge that without us, Earth could heal, cleanse itself, and nurture all the countless species we have failed to notice, value, and cherish. Let the rape stop. Let the wide-scale poisoning stop. Let the brutality, suffering, stupidity, greed, and criminal disregard for others stop.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

I freely admit to the pessimism and bitterness inherent in my view. I’m also aware of how paradoxical it is. I truly care about most people. Put a single human soul in my path, and I rarely fail to make a connection and feel some kind of empathy and kindness for them. I’ve spent my life caregiving, supporting, and teaching people, taking great joy in my contribution.

In my last few posts, starting with “The Locked Room,” I’ve thought a great deal about self-love and self-trust. It occurs to me my despair over human behavior as a whole must include me. My willingness to see us all wiped out includes a willingness to be wiped out myself. If other humans are capable of the atrocities happening all around us every day, so am I. If I want to see that dark potential destroyed, if I’d be glad of it, even, my self-love is seriously incomplete.

I’m not sure I’d call it self-hate. I don’t hate myself, you, the stranger on the street, or friends and family, but I hate what we are capable of. I hate what we can (and in some cases choose to) do. I believe some of us are willing to heal, grow, change, unite, and make better choices, but right now most of the human power in the world (as we understand power) lies in the hands of a few louts nobody seems to be able to overcome. Indeed, many cheer them on.

And that could be any of us, cheering them on. In the right context, with the right ideology, it could be any of us. I am too old to tell myself fairy stories about how I would never fill-in-the-blank. Easy to say as I listen to my sheets rotating in the washing machine, drink clean water from my tap, notice the old copper pipes rattling as the furnace comes on, and type on my laptop in my fully electrified, clean, intact house in a peaceful neighborhood on a Saturday morning with my feet propped up on my desk. I am sane. I am healthy. I am well-fed, housed, and employed. Most people do not have the luxuries I take for granted, the safety, the peace. People do terrible things out of terrible pain and dysfunction. I am not immune. None of us are. I’ve been fortunate, and that’s through nothing but luck.

A few weeks ago I read a piece by an author on Substack, Anna Kay, who writes a newsletter called The Hinterlands. I stumbled across her “A World Without a Heartbeat” by chance. She was not a writer I was familiar with, though I have since subscribed to her. She turned me inside out. I wept. I was comforted. I was awed and envious of her evident belief in human goodness. I was softened. I was challenged.

Most of all, I was challenged. As I read her words, I glimpsed a different frame, a frame of hope rather than bitterness.

I could not possibly paraphrase her words and I wouldn’t dare try to give you a synopsis. It’s not a long piece, and if you only follow one link out of the hundreds I’ve posted here in the last eight years, let this be the one. Please.

By Photoholgic on Unsplash

What moved me most was a world without humans would be a world without stories. A world without stories, a world without music, a world without art. A world without reverence and gratitude for nature. A world without human appreciation. Somehow, that seems like a terrible loss. I’m not sure why. Wouldn’t the planet be every bit as rich and beautiful if no one enjoyed it? Surely it would. Yet the loneliness of feeling unseen and unappreciated hurts because I’ve lived in the heart of that feeling.

The question I ask myself is am I willing to allow some or all of my bitterness to dissolve in order to deepen my ability to self-love? Bitterness is a heavy burden and there’s plenty in the world. Do I need or want to add to it? Is it useful?

It’s true we humans are capable of terrible things. Isn’t it also true we’re capable of remarkable courage, generosity, intelligence, creativity, and love?

Couldn’t we each make a list of human teachers, guides, beloved ones who have inspired us, protected us, and made us smile as well as a list of those who have done us wrong?

Our choice is which list to make, which to dwell on.

I’ve become deeply involved with the Substack community. I follow several other creatives simply because they inspire me. They make me feel better about the world, about life, about myself. They balance some of my despair and horror regarding the state of the world with beauty and hope. I’d like to introduce you to some of them:

Questions:

  • Do you believe humans have value as a species? Why or why not?
  • What human-driven activity gives you hope?
  • Do you see humans as part of a healthy planet or an invasive species, wiping out all competitors?

Leave a comment below!

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:

Trust

When I wrote about internal locked rooms earlier in the month, I had no idea how much there would be to unpack. In subsequent discussions about locked rooms and unconditional love (for a connect-the-dots map go here) a friend tells me she believes trusting herself is the biggest barrier for her in unconditionally loving herself. Me being me, I asked her how we define trust. In asking her I asked myself.

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

Here we go again.

Trust is defined by Online Oxford Dictionary as “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”

Trust is a tricky subject for me and I’ve so far avoided taking it head on, but this feels like the right time. Part of my hesitation to talk about it is my own identity as a person who doesn’t trust easily.

I feel that piece of identity as a shameful aspect of my character. As I write this, I have a vivid childhood memory of being in the back of a dim car in a blinding snowstorm feeling scared. An adult in the car was also fearful, as were the family dogs. The driver asked me, “What’s the matter, don’t you trust me?”

The answer clamored inside the car, “NO!” For a moment it seemed to me we’d all shouted it, though nobody said a word and I huddled, frozen with fear and not daring to speak, in my corner.

It’s bad not to trust; disloyal, unloving, unnatural. But I learned very young trusting those around me was dangerous. All my life I’ve been torn between my shame about not trusting and a determination to survive and learn to self-defend … which sometimes (often?) means not trusting.

I don’t see trust as a black-and-white belief. I might trust someone completely with money and business affairs, but not at all as a confidant. I might trust someone as a parent but not as a dog walker. I might trust someone’s essential goodness but not their reliability in following through on plans.

This question of trusting ourselves, though, is slightly different. What does it mean, exactly, to not trust ourselves? What do I mean when I say it to myself?

Trust is defined as a belief, and beliefs can and do change. Belief is a choice. My belief that I’m untrustworthy is not something I was born with, but something I internalized from my family. I’m untrustworthy because I’m dramatic, I struggle with math story problems, I have needs and feelings, I’m intuitive, I’m sensitive, I have boundaries, I challenge authority and rules, and I tell the truth, among many other reasons.

Internalized voices are a bitch, because we don’t realize or remember they came from someone outside us.

And people outside us lie. People outside us can never fully see what’s inside us. People have agendas, their own wounds and trauma, and navigate around their own internalized bullshit.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

People outside us are not necessarily reliable sources about our worth and value as a human being.

If trust is a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something,” we have specifics we can explore.

Reliability: I know myself to be reliable. I have many flaws, but my integrity is strong and I keep my word to myself.

Truth: A thorny aspect of trust. I wrote two paragraphs here about the ways in which others perceive my truthfulness. On edit, I realized none of that has to do with my truthfulness with myself, which will always be invisible to the outside world. Do I trust my truthfulness with myself? Yes. Absolutely.

Ability: This is my weakest area of self-trust. In some ways. At some times. I wrestle every day with imposter syndrome. On the other hand, I absolutely trust my ability to write, to teach, to swim, to dance, and to do many other things. Oddly, though I trust my ability in most cases, I don’t want others to trust my ability because I have a huge fear of disappointing people. This, too, is an old wound, first opened when I received constant messaging about how disappointing and inadequate I was as a child. Because of that, I don’t want people to rely on me for fear I’ll let them down, not from my perspective, but from theirs.

I told you trust was tricky for me.

Strength: Which brings me to strength. This, for me, is a no-brainer. I have absolute belief in my own strength. God knows I wouldn’t be sitting here at the keyboard typing if I hadn’t been strong all my life.

Given this mostly positive review of the components of this definition of trust, what’s the problem? Why have I so consistently mistrusted myself during my lifetime?

I can easily come up with two reasons. There may be more lurking in the background, but these two are in front: One is trust in my physical body, and the other is perfectionism.

Perfectionism is one of the first things I wrote about on this blog. It’s another piece from my childhood I’ve struggled with it all my life, and I’m certainly not the only one. I’m conscious of it now, which is helpful, but it affects every day of my life and if I’m not mindful it rules me. Publishing this blog was one of my first real efforts at resistance. It took more than a year of weekly publishing to stop feeling panic as I pushed the “publish” button after a reasonable amount of writing and editing.

Even as perfectionism drives me, I’m aware enough to know I can’t define it beyond pleasing people. Which is impossible, and I know that. Yet the internal pressure to be perfect seems to be inescapable.

I’ve also written extensively about expectations. As a child, I was expected to be perfect according to conflicting expectations from three adults on whom I was dependent. Needless to say I failed to please any of them, which meant I lived in a constant state of shame and fear of abandonment. A perfect setup for internalized self-loathing. The road from self-loathing to considering unconditional self-love has been an amazing journey.

I was aware, as I explored ability, reliability, truth, and strength above, of a little voice in my head saying, “Yes, but—,” a precursor to the time I was late, or forgot an appointment, or the occasions I did deliberately lie, or the times I felt weak, or when my ability did not live up to my own unconscious standards of perfectionism.

As I became aware of this, I realized I will never trust myself if I aspire to be perfect in these four categories. I have never been perfect, I am not perfect, I never will be perfect, and I’m not much interested at this point in my life in attaining perfection in any way.

So fuck off, perfectionism. I’m not your bitch anymore. AND you will not stop me from loving myself, unconditionally or otherwise. Unconditional love is not built on some ridiculous set of expectations.

Photo by Emma Backer on Unsplash

Which brings me to an interesting insight on my relationship with my body. Let’s not do the body-as-a-political-signal thing, OK? I’m sick of it. We all live in a body. We have baggage about how our bodies look and function. We’re pressured, every day, to try to buy a “better” body, especially children. In today’s world, many of us feel we “should” be different, no matter what we look like. Currently, we’re obsessed with appearance and virtue signaling rather than health and function.

I don’t hate my body. However, due to autoimmune issues and years of chronic pain, I haven’t trusted it. Until the last ten years or so, since I’ve gone carnivore, my physical state was extremely limiting; I was unable to engage fully in activities I loved, get regular exercise, or even reliably manage the activities of daily living without severe pain.

Now I have my inflammation under control, my chronic pain is gone, and I’m able to joyfully live the kind of active lifestyle I’ve always wanted: gardening, walking, swimming, water aerobics, free weights, stretching, a little yoga, a little Pilates, a little time in the gym. I’m healthier and more active than I’ve ever been, but I am aging, and as I age, my body is changing. (Big surprise, I know!) I noticed, in my post about unconditional self-love, some of the things I wrote about unconditionally loving were physical things. In this culture, nobody tells us to love our varicose veins, or our age-spotted hands, or our lined neck. Instead, we’re encouraged to buy something and “fix” all those problems, or at least hide them.

That’s not unconditional love. (I also deny it’s “body positivity,” but I don’t want to dive into that rabbit hole!)

I know if I push myself too hard my body will hurt. I know if I allow my anxiety to spin out of control I won’t sleep. I know if I eat a whole pizza I will a) have inflammation and pain from the carbs and b) have severe constipation (cheese). I know if I garden for too many hours at a time I’ll be too stiff the next morning to get dressed without sitting down. I know if I spend too many hours in the pool I’ll develop eczema on my elbows and hips.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

I ask myself, does all this mean I don’t trust my body? Because it actually sounds like I do trust it to react to my choices in various predictable ways. Is what I’m really saying I don’t trust my body to be a 20-year-old perfect body?

Well …. Yeah. I guess that is what I’m saying. Pretty silly.

My friend doesn’t feel she can unconditionally love herself without trusting herself. She’ll navigate her own path through all this. My own conclusion is I can trust myself. Perhaps I should consciously start doing so. (What an idea!) For me, lack of self-trust is not an obstacle to unconditional love, but it certainly makes a nice contribution to it.

Questions:

  • Do you see trust as essential to unconditional love?
  • Do you agree with this definition of trust? If not, how would you define it? Can you find a better definition?
  • What aspect of trust in this definition do you struggle with the most?

Leave a comment below!

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:

Simplicity

I’ve been resting in this pause between solstice and the new year. Although I made a conscious choice to set aside everything I could, it was uncomfortable to let this blog lie fallow. On the other hand, I have not been inspired to do much more than manage day-to-day life.

I’m grateful to have moved into new holiday routines after decades of feeling imprisoned by obligation and duty to my fractured family and making Christmas meaningful and fun for my children. Gone are the days of huge, exhausting meals, tight schedules, trying desperately to please everyone at my own expense, spending much of the holidays in the car traveling between homes, and tired, overstimulated children. Not to mention tired, overstimulated me.

Now I focus on Yule, on the deep, introspective peace of winter and long nights, withdrawing into my cozy home. I engage in rituals I love: candles, simple decorating, making a double batch of Spritz cookies with my cookie press to share, and welcoming the return of the light.

Photo by David Monje on Unsplash

This year we had a tropical storm the week before Christmas with high winds and torrential rains that flooded our town and, indeed, the whole state. We were without power for 48 hours. The lack of electric light (or electric anything else) fit in well with Yule, though we got very cold. We were also trapped; every bridge in the area was closed and the Kennebec River, which winds through our town, rose 30 feet, which is 15 feet above flood stage. Between flooding and downed trees, we were unable to leave our immediate neighborhood. Most businesses closed. The ones that stayed open (with generators) quickly ran out of everything. Our neighbors loaned us a butane camp stove so I could heat water for hot drinks.

As soon as the power was restored I ordered a propane camp stove.

Life rolls along, whether I’m posting or not.

This morning, as I lay in bed waking, I heard snow plows in our neighborhood. We’ve had more rain here, and clearly sometime during the night it had changed to snow. As I moved around the kitchen, watching the sky lighten and the snow fall, cooking breakfast, sipping my first cup of tea, enjoying glowing candles, my thoughts drifted.

Impossible to avoid end-of-year lists and reviews and new year resolutions, hopes and fears this time of year. I generally am uninterested. I’m content to let the old year diminish and recede, particularly this one, which was especially difficult personally. I don’t enjoy new year resolutions, mine or anyone else’s. None of us know what the new year will bring and many of us look ahead with some trepidation and anxiety; I don’t need to exacerbate mine by making or consuming predictions. What will come will come and we’ll have to cope with it.

I will be 60 this month. Impossible. Incredible. For the first time in my life, I’m daunted by a birthday. Generally, I hardly notice them. I’m annoyed by my discomfort this year. I’m determined not to focus on it, but I keep seeing it out of the corner of my eye.

I asked myself a question as I moved around the kitchen this morning. If I could have anything for my birthday, if I could make one intention for the year ahead, what would it be?

It’s easier to think about what we don’t want, isn’t it? I reviewed my current challenges and anxieties, watching the pewter sky and the snow becoming less rain and more flakes as the temperature dropped. I flipped the bacon, gave the cats another half a can of food so they would get out from under my feet. The pipes in the radiators creaked and popped as the furnace turned on.

The word ‘simplicity’ came into my mind. I turned it over. I thought about what brings me joy. I thought about candles, reading a good book, the warmth and weight of a cat in my lap. I thought about a cup of hot tea. I thought about music, the rhythm of swimming, being with people I love and trust. Sitting in my comfortable chair with my weighted blanket, just breathing. Peace. Stillness. Light and shadow. Long nights. My warm bed. Hot showers. Solitude. Privacy. I thought about my current laptop background. A perfect illustration of simplicity:

I thought about what I don’t want. The endless complications of being nice, pleasing others, fawning to stave off violence and pain. Clutter. Bright lights, noise, demands. Busyness. Obligation. Duty. Feeling hounded, imprisoned, criticized, judged by myself and others. Too much talk. Racing the clock.

I thought about boundaries. Inconsistent boundaries, badly maintained, easily breached; and strong, smooth, tough boundaries, well-maintained and consistent. Unapologetic.

I thought about the simplicity of ‘No’ and the complications of ‘No’ followed by five minutes of cringing apology and justification, or the inability to say ‘No’ at all.

‘Simplicity’, I decided, named my longing.

When I consider the first 60 years of my life I mostly see the unending labor and anguish of caring for others, the years of trying and trying, as only a woman who loves can understand, to love them all. To please them. To make them happy and healthy. It was complicated. Noisy. Chaotic. Bloody. Painful. Extremely expensive in terms of my own health and happiness.

And frequently thankless. Rarely reciprocated.

That’s what I thought I was for, to live that way. I was taught that was what I was for.

In the last few months I came across a little mantra which has become something like a prayer permanently nestled in my consciousness:

I am enough.
I choose my life.
I trust myself.

Sixty is a nice, round number. How would it be if I chose to begin again, now, with just myself; my own self-care, which is simple and easy? What if I chose to embrace the discomfort and power of maintaining strong, consistent boundaries and let people react to them however they need to, making their feelings none of my business? What if I stopped apologizing for what I need because it’s not what they need or understand or want?

What if I made up my mind to choose the simplest thing, the most direct, honest answer, the clearest communication in any given situation? What if I stood up for myself the way I stand up so readily for others?

Maybe 60 years of responsibility for everyone around me is enough and I could choose to spend the next 60 years (!) being responsible only for myself.

What a relief!

I don’t tell myself living more simply will be easy. It won’t. Boundaries, (I’m never allowed to forget) are invariably heavily challenged and battered by those who have the most to gain by us having none. Maintaining boundaries means conflict, a thing I dread and have always avoided as much as possible. It means emotional manipulation, the most painful (and successful) weapon those close to me can wield against me. It means Failing To Please. It means controlling my natural empathy, focusing it inward rather than outward, being more present with my own internal state rather than that of others.

Simplicity. What a lovely intention.

Photo by Das Sasha on Unsplash

Here’s a deep winter wish for you all:

May You Grow Still Enough

May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter, so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within.

May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping into the ground, so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow.

May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core.

May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air, so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.

by Brother David Steindl-Rast

Questions:

  • How did you spend your holidays? Did you spend them the way you wanted to or the way you had to?
  • How do you feel about new year’s resolutions?
  • What single word names your deepest longing?
  • In your view, how do self-care and selfishness differ?

Leave a comment below!

To read my fiction, serially published free every week, go here:

 

 

 

The Center

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
–From “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats

The line “the centre cannot hold,” has been running through my mind for several weeks, through all the time I’ve been sick with COVID and whatever nasty virus followed in its wake, and my slow recovery. “The centre cannot hold.” I found a quiet moment and looked it up. I knew it was poetry, but I couldn’t remember who wrote it or what the poem was. Thank you, Google!

W.B. Yeats, of course.

I suppose it’s a common experience to feel we’ve lost our center, our groundedness, when someone significant in our life dies, as my mother just has. I’ve fought against the feeling because over the years I’ve worked so hard to individuate from my mother, to reclaim my right to center my life around something other than her. If she was not the center of my life, why do I feel things have fallen apart since she died in August?

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Did I fail to reclaim my power, define myself and my value apart from our relationship? Has all my work been for nothing? Are my healing and growth an illusion?

I have been afraid of answering these questions.

When I reread the first three lines of the poem, I first imagined myself as the falconer and the falcon as … my soul? My joy? My wisest self? My intuition? All those and none of those, exactly. The falcon seemed like a piece of myself I lost a long, long time ago when I was child, a piece I struggled through many years and miles to find and reclaim, and now is lost again. It can’t hear me, and I can’t hear it. It feels unbearable. My center didn’t hold. Why didn’t it hold? Did I do something wrong? How do I call it back to me?

And I want to call it back, not haul it back by its jesses. In fact, why is the falcon restrained at all? If it’s truly mine and we belong together, why is it leashed? The idea disturbs me. I want it to be free. I’ve worked too long and hard for my own freedom to relish restraining any other creature. I note I assume the falcon is leashed. The poem doesn’t explicitly say so. Interesting.

Maybe my assumption of leash and jesses reflects all the ways I’ve restrained myself. As a child I internalized restraint. I had to. Everyone else felt free to throw self-control to the winds. Is my feeling of my center not holding asking me to release myself further? Is it time for deeper faith and trust in myself?

As I typed those three lines onto the page to begin this post, I imagined another picture in which my mother was the falconer and I the falcon. She no longer holds the leash. I am free. I have flown away from the only center I was allowed to have and now I’m overwhelmed by my freedom. I don’t know how to be wild. I don’t know how to live without the restraining leather jesses around my slender legs. What if I can’t? What if I perish? Must I find a new falconer to hold the end of my leash? What if my freedom is a mistake and I’m not fit to be free? What if I’ve lost the ability to fly free?

Ugh. Goosebumps.

Don’t get carried away, I say to myself. Slow down. We’re talking about emotional freedom versus physical freedom. You’ve been flying in an ever-widening gyre for years.

What’s changed is that leash, woven of blood and bone and love, woven of years and empathy and need, guilt and shame and obligation, too strong to ever be severed … except, it turns out, by Death.

What do we center around?

Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash

It changes, doesn’t it? In my first 20 years I centered around my family of origin. When I was in my 20s and beyond I centered around a man and my children. Work was in there, too. And my family of origin, particularly my mother, who was not pleased to be sharing the center. The proverbial 3-ring circus. It went on like that until my children emancipated and, to be honest, for some time after. Then, as they slowly faded out of my center, being far away and engrossed in their own lives, I centered around some man (but not the same one; I’m a slow learner) and my mother. Slowly, writing began to nudge for a place in the center as well.

This created real problems. Mom could never tolerate sharing. I was used to her competition with the kids and whatever man I was involved with but the writing would have created a real threat, so I hid it. The more I hid it, kept it inviolate and safe from outside sabotage, the more I centered around it, and the more I centered around it the more threatened she felt, though I’m not sure her reaction was conscious and she had no idea what she was fighting against. She just knew she didn’t have all of me anymore.

She was right to feel threatened, because writing eventually tore me away from her physically and geographically, a thing that had never happened before and a last betrayal she never forgave.

In the stresses and strains of the last couple of years, I lost writing out of my center. Oh, I still did it. I blogged and serial published. I journaled. But as Mom’s health and sanity crumbled, she became my center once again, this time to the exclusion of everything else. Work (generally part of the center for all of us) competed, keeping me sane, physically fit, and anchoring me into a community of friends, but Mom once again became the primary gravitational pull in my center. My days and nights were full of her. I had less and less respite and the intensity increased daily, winding around my life more and more tightly, and then …

She died. In the middle of the night, a night in which I lay awake in Maine while my brother sat vigil with her halfway across the country in Colorado.

When I write it all out like this, I can understand why I’ve felt so dazed. I can feel some grace for myself.

The one thing that’s always been in the center is gone.

“The centre cannot hold …”

Being too old to have any desire to put a man back in the center (been there, done that), and loving my job while realizing it’s not big enough to define me, I turn once again to the truest, most joyful, wildest part of my life: writing.

And that’s scary. If I let writing take all the space, time and energy in the center, what will happen? I don’t even make money with it!

I make joy with it instead. Joy, connection, contribution, authenticity. Writing is not a black hole of failure. It does meet my needs. When I write, I actually feel good enough and sometimes even better than that! No wonder I feel bewildered.

As I write this, it occurs to me for the first time to not only allow things to fall apart, but to participate actively in the falling away and, falling down. To dance in the ruins, even as I weep. I’m reminded of a Rumi quote:

“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

Things fell apart. The center did not hold. Change, in other words. Life. Which is to say Death.

So, an unexpected ending to this post. Things are falling apart. I’m ready to stop trying to hold them together. It’s time to let go. Mom already has. Now it’s my turn. What lives in our center changes as we change. It’s time now for me to choose my center, choose it freely without guilt or shame.

Sometimes things fall apart and the center cannot hold.

So we find a new one.

Questions:

  • What’s in your center?
  • If you were free to choose your center, what would you chose?
  • How many things compete for your center? Could you reduce the gravitational pull of your center?
  • If your life changed in some dramatic way and you were forced to find a new center, how would you go about doing that?
  • Is your center all about others, or do you have something there for yourself, too?

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